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Christian brother who abused deaf boys has sentence cut on appeal

John McCabe (Pic: RTE)
John McCabe (Pic: RTE)

A former Christian Brother jailed for sexually abusing three young boys at a school for the deaf has had his prison sentence reduced by the Court of Appeal because the Circuit Court operated on the basis of an incorrect maximum sentence.

John McCabe (55), of Kilshane Cross, North Road, Finglas, had pleaded guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to six counts of indecently assaulting three young deaf boys on dates between 1981 and 1984.

He was sentenced to 12 years in prison with three suspended by Judge Martin Nolan on May 9 2012.

Relying on a recent Court of Appeal decision which found that the maximum sentence for indecently assaulting males in the 1980s was two years in prison and not 10, McCabe established there was an error in his sentence without the need for a hearing.

Speaking on behalf of the Court of Appeal today, Mr Justice George Birmingham said that because the Circuit Court operated on the basis of an incorrect maximum sentence, it was clear there was an error in principle.

At one stage the legislature had provided different maximum sentences for the offence of indecent assault depending on whether the offence was committed against a male or a female Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions, Fiona Murphy BL, had asked for an adjournment of McCabe's sentence appeal because the DPP is seeking to appeal the Court's decision in the James Maher case which found the maximum sentence for abusing a male at that time was two years and not 10. The DPP's request was refused.

The Court consequently imposed a sentence of five years on McCabe

Mr Justice Birmingham said the offences were committed against three young and profoundly deaf boys.

The offences were committed by McCabe at a time when he was a Christian brother who was a staff member in the boarding school where the boys resided.

The acts involved repeated and frequent offending committed against two of the boys and one incident against the third boy.

The first complaint was made in 2000, the court heard, and McCabe was first interviewed in 2007.

In his second and subsequent interviews McCabe “admitted his wrongdoing” and made full video-taped admissions, Mr Justice Birmingham said. This was deserving of very significant credit.

There might have been options open to McCabe if he exercised his right to silence.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the offences were very serious and the gravity of them was almost self evident.

The boys were profoundly deaf from birth and communicated only by sign language. They resided in St Joseph's boarding school in Cabra, Dublin and McCabe was in a position of authority over them.

It was also the case that the abuse occurred in the boys dwelling.

In one case, when it appeared a complaint was likely, McCabe took steps to cut if off at the pass by contacting the boys father.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the court was obliged to put the offending on a scale and awful as these offences were it is that case that even more serious offences had come before the Court of Appeal in its short existence.

McCabe had since left the Christian Brothers, he had married and he had a child.

A psychological report indicated he was not at a high risk of reoffending. On the contrary, he was seen as being a low risk of re-offending and since these incidents occurred there was no reason to believe he had offended further.

There were reasons to believe he had taken very significant steps on the road to rehabilitation and that was to a significant step completed.

Mr Justice Birmingham said the maximum sentence was lower than was intended by the Oireachtas.

The court has decided that the appropriate sentence was in affect seven years in total - two years in respect of the first complainant, two years in respect of the second and one year in respect of the third, all to run consecutively.

Mr Justice Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, said the court wished to express its admiration to the men for the way in which they had dealt with their difficulties.

He said the men, who waived their right to anonymity so McCabe could be identified, had been seriously wronged and had acted with “great courage”.

McCabe was returned to prison to serve out his new sentence of five years.